Internet addiction – Epidemic or fad?

By Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., and Yalda Uhls, MA, MBA

1 in 3 people consider the Internet to be as important as air, water, food and shelter. Given how intensely people feel about this technology, is it any wonder that some psychologists are convinced that Internet addiction is a real pathology?  True, claiming that people are as dependent on the Internet as they are on air, food, or water is obviously a non-starter; it’s pretty clear that the actual role of technology is far less compulsory in terms of human survival.

But does this kind of dependence, compulsory or otherwise, qualify as an addiction?

While the DSM only currently recognizes specific dependence on substances as an addiction, it is apparent that a subset of people who overuse the Internet and digital media tools also display behaviors exhibited by substance abusers.  In the last decade, as the problem became more widely acknowledged, a few psychological measures have been developed to identify Internet addiction. While none of these are perfect, certain measures are becoming more accepted in the field (like Young’s Internet Addiction Test).  Using these scales, studies have identified correlates of Internet addiction and found that ADHD, depression, social phobia and hostility were all linked to excessive Internet use, a pattern reminiscent of correlates of alcohol and drug addictions as well.

The internet is just a tool, why should people who overuse it be considered addicts?

Some of the most compelling evidence comes from Asia.  In Korea, a country where technology is deeply enmeshed in the culture and Internet cafes abound, Internet addiction is considered one of the country’s most serious problems.  In the last decade, many people have died after marathon sessions of playing online video games, presumably from exhaustion and lack of nutrition, as they ignored their basic needs so they could continue to play a game. It’s a bit reminiscent of animal studies in which rats with electrodes implanted in their dopamine “pleasure centers” forgo food for lever presses to their own demise.  China has struggled with similar issues and in 2007 the country restricted game use to less than three hours a day (it’s important to note that there’s some loose consensus that more than 38 hours of recreational internet use a week is problematic).  In Korea, where they may be ahead of the curve in terms of dealing with the issue, more than 1,000 counselors have been trained in the treatment of Internet addiction and nearly 200 hospitals enlisted in the effort.  Moreover, preventive measures were recently introduced in schools and free Internet rescue camps are offered throughout the country.

In America, current estimates are that a child between the ages of 8-18 uses digital media nearly eight hours a day, while extreme users spend up to 12 hours a day with media, every day of the week.  Children are spending more time with screens than with their parents or at school; are we doing enough to protect vulnerable children from developing an addiction to the Internet?  No laws currently exist to protect children from excessive internet use. Doesn’t society have a responsibility to protect children, in the way we attempt to protect them from drugs and alcohol? If so, what would such protection look like and how would it be enforced?

You might be asking yourself whether people are actually addicted to the Internet itself or whether the Internet is simply a tool where other more basic pathologies, such as poor impulse control or social phobias, or fetishes are played out?

In the case of certain online behaviors, it may be simple to define the behavior as problematic because similar behavior offline has long been established as socially unacceptable when performed to excess.  For example, well established addictive behaviors such as gambling or sexual activity are easily played out online.   Even respected public leaders such as former congressman Anthony Weiner admit they have problems that are beyond their own control and that they need professional treatment.  In case you haven’t heard about Weiner, he was the Congressman who resigned after being exposed for texting sexually explicit photos of himself to constituents he had never met. Sounds like something an ignorant teenager might do right?  So when does this kind of behavior cross the threshold to compulsion or addiction when performed repeatedly?

Examples such as Weiners’ may be relatively easy to identify as a problematic compulsion but when online behavior is sanctioned by society as in the case of sending non-sexual texts, emails, or surfing the Internet for hours on end, it is more difficult to determine exactly when the line between normal and dysfunctional is crossed. Indeed, when one considers the “crackberry” nickname given to certain smart phones, a direct comparison to addiction seems relevant. Nevertheless, those who constantly check emails at the dinner table, on vacations, and while driving, are often extremely successful executives whose business culture demands this level of connectedness.  Indeed, some schools even promote the use of digital media as an exciting learning tool; for example, the curriculum for one elementary school in New York is designed entirely around video games. Given the potential for harmful behavior, how do we reconcile overuse of the Internet when our culture often validates and supports its use?

With all of these difficult issues still to be resolved, the answer to the question of whether or not Internet addiction is the same as substance abuse is obviously not yet, and may never be, crystal clear.  However, according to everything we know right now, there’s no question that for at least a subset of Internet users, online life can become disruptive to normal functioning. The question is how to minimize that sort of risk as our society becomes more and more globally dependent on technology.

If you think you might have a problem with the Internet, ask yourself the following questions – if you answer yes to more than 5 of these problems, you may need to seek treatment.

1. Do you often feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop your Internet use?
4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of your involvement with the Internet?
8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

As with other compulsive or addictive behavioral patterns, the key to combating internet-addiction-like symptoms is to intervene early. Since many addicts start out using their respective drug/behavior of choice as a coping mechanism, realizing early on that unhealthy patterns of behavior are developing is crucial. If a child draws his or her self-esteem from retreat into the online world, it would be extremely helpful to find additional activities that could similarly boost confidence. If compulsive use patterns do develop, it is likely going to take a concerted effort to break them without bringing up serious resistance. Techniques such as Motivational Interviewing (MI) will likely prove as useful in this domain as they have with substance abuse and addiction – gentle guidance is often more effective than cornering a troubled individual and forcing them to act.

The good news? Internet withdrawal is not likely to cause much in terms of physiological withdrawal symptoms, so if cutting off access does become necessary, at least there’s no risk of going into shock, cardiac arrest, or DT-like symptoms. Still, expect that psychological withdrawal-like symptoms will be similar to those experienced with many drugs: Depression, anhedonia, anxiety, irritableness, sleep disturbances, and more are all likely to be part of the picture. If we’re talking about cutting off a child, expect screaming… lot’s of screaming.

 

For more information about technology and its effects on human development, visit Yalda T. Uhls’ website:  Inthedigitalage.com

 

Citations:

Cisco Survey on Internet, 2011: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/netsol/ns1120/index.html

American Psychiatric Association. (2008). Issues for DSM-V: Internet addiction.

Byun, S., Ruffini, C. R., Mills, J. E., Douglas, A. C., Niang, M., Stephchenkova, S., Lee, S. K., et al. (2009). Internet addiction: Metasynthesis of 1996-2006 quantitative research. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 12(2), 203-207.

Christakis, D. A. (2010). Internet addiction: A 21st century epidemic? BMC Medicine, 8.

Young, K.S. (1998). Internet addiction: The emergence of a new clinical disorder. CyberPsychology & Behavior 1:237-244.

More money more problems? Rich teens and drugs

Teens raised in affluent homes display the highest rates of depression, anxiety, and drug abuse according to a recent article in Monitor on Psychology, the APA‘s monthly magazine.

One of our recent posts dealt with some of the issues unique to teens and drugs. In addition to the issues we’d already mentioned, the article named a number of reasons for the high prevalence of mental-health issues among affluent teens. Among them were an increasingly narcissistic society, overbearing parents, and an common attitude of perfectionism.

Each of these reasons are likely contributors to the prevalence of mental health and drug abuse issues among upper-middle-class (and above) teens. Still, as far as I’m concerned, the main take home message of the article is this:

Money truly doesn’t buy happiness – Rich teens and drug use.

While drug abuse research often focuses on the lower socioeconomic strata these recent findings indicate that being financially stable offers little in the way of protection from some of the most common psychological difficulties.

Thankfully, the researchers cited in the article gave some simple advice to parents:

  • Give children clear responsibilities to help around the house.
  • Take part in community service (to unite the family and reduce narcissism).
  • Reduce TV watching (especially of reality TV shows that glorify celebrity and excess).
  • Monitor internet use.
  • Stop obsessing about perfect grades and focus instead on the joy of learning for its own sake.

I couldn’t agree more with these recommendations. Having taught a number of classes myself, I have witnessed the ridiculous inflation in students’ expectations of top grades. I think it’s time we turned attention back to the family and reintroduce some of the basic skills that many addicts find themselves learning much too late… Often in recovery.

Internet Porn Addiction – Why is free porn so irresistible and what can love addicts do?

online-porn101In a recent post on Internet addiction, we briefly mentioned addictions to internet pornography. There’s no doubt that the easy access, and anonymity, of online access to any and every sexual whim conceivable is at the heart of online porn’s draw. Here we will take a more in-depth look at how Internet porn addiction develops.

The internet porn addiction connection

Excessive use of online porn can be thought of as a manifestation of both Internet addiction and sex addiction. In fact, porn addiction is one of the most commonly reported sex addiction problems, especially among younger individuals and among what Dr. Carnes calls “Phase 1” sex addicts, or the lighter version of sex addiction that doesn’t involve others.

Porn addiction develops much like a drug addiction. After an initially rewarding experience with pornography (a common experience given the cycles of sex we’d mentioned in an earlier post), individuals may experience uncontrollable urges to obtain sexual satisfaction through that form of entertainment (1). The connection between internet porn and sexual gratification is positively reinforced, and the urges become more frequent and more powerful. These connections can become so strong that simply sitting down at a computer elicits a sexual response.

Like in drug addiction the problems arise when urges to view porn conflict with an individual’s daily responsibilities. Instead of leaving for work on time, the addict may decide to stay at home and watch porn – Some porn addicts report staying at home for porn sessions that can last as long as 8-10 hours. The shame and guilt that often accompany these compulsive sexual experiences are also thought to greatly affect the experience of sex addicts and to reinforce the positive experience they receive from their shameful act. Many porn addicts report that they end up in a distressing situation where their shameful sexual release is the only positive experience they get to have.

It should be noted that the majority of people who use online pornography do so recreationally, with little ill effect (2). As is the case with drug addiction, it is only a sub-group of people that become “addicted” and suffer serious consequences from their porn addiction (e.g. lost jobs, disturbed marriages).

Whether we are talking about pornography, gambling or shopping, our golden rule for diagnosing behavioral addictions has been: no impairment, no addiction.

The toll of porn addiction and the refuge of he internet

Internet Porn Addiction can also bring about a different psychological toll than the shame we discussed earlier. As tolerance develops, individuals with porn addiction may also begin to need more deviant material to achieve the same high. This is again similar to the increased quantity and variety need experienced by many drug users and it’s where rape fantasies, fetishes, and child pornography often come into play. Exposure to such material can grossly distort beliefs about human sexuality and ruin interpersonal relationships. Patients that progress in this fashion often report feeling unsatisfied with their sexual experiences and unsatisfied with their partners (2).

We noted that in addiction, shame is a major component of the addiction cycle. This is especially true for sexual addiction. Social norms tell the sex-addict that there is shame in buying an adult magazine (like playboy or hustler) and that there is shame in soliciting a prostitute. Internet porn substantially reduces the risk of getting caught, and therefore of being shamed. Many individuals who experience porn addiction are able to hide their activity from their partners and remain completely anonymous on the web. Online porn is easily accessible, it’s available all the time, and getting free porn is easy. When you add complete anonymity into the mix, you get a recipe for a potentially serious addiction (2).

Porn addiction help – Some Advice

Relapse is common during recovery as patients often experience withdrawal symptoms when their normal consumption of pornography is reduced. In this case, like in many others, relapse is to be thought of as a misstep, and not a failure. See our post on treatments for sexual addiction to see how porn addiction is usually dealt with. In addition to these standard methods, patients can often benefit from the use of Internet filters and “accountability” software that sends a report of their online activity to a partner or therapist. Again, it’s important to recognize that although porn addiction is serious, there are solutions out there and sex addiction help resources in general are growing with the recent jump in awareness brought about by high profile cases like that of Tiger Woods.

Citations:

1. Griffiths, M. (2001) Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for internet sex addiction, The Journal of Sex Research, 38(4)

2. Cline, V.B. (2002) Pornography’s Effects on Adults and Children

About Addiction: Basics, Smoking and drugs

Whether you are interested in addiction as a whole or specific drugs, we have it all here.  Read on for some interesting breaking news and informative articles.

Addiction Basics

Addiction in Recovery: Alcohol and drugs are not the only addictions looming over US college students heads. This article reveals that cut off from the Internet, social media, cell phones and devices like iPods and TVs, students experience agitation, aggression, slight depression and a sudden overabundance of time.

PRLog: Some basic addiction statistics.  In 2001 almost thirty percent of kids between the ages of twelve and seventeen reported using drugs.

Smoking

Medical News Today: This article discusses a study which found that Arizona’s smoking ban reduced hospital visits.  Since the 2007 state law took effect, admissions for ailments related to secondhand smoke have declined by as much as 33 percent.

Health Today: A new study found that Americans could suffer 18,000 fewer attacks per year, save millions in health costs if all states banned smoking in restaurants, offices and other public spaces nationwide.

Medical News Today: The medical marijuana boom is always a prevalent topic. According to this article, fourteen states in the US plus the District of Columbia have passed laws intended to give certain ill people legal access to medical marijuana.

Other Drugs

Harm Reduction Journal: This is about a case study examining the closure of a large urban fixed site needle exchange in Canada. The article concludes that closing the fixed site needle exchange had an adverse effect on already vulnerable clients and reduced access to effective comprehensive harm reduction services.

AP News Break: The investment and crackdown of drug war in Mexico have failed to halt drug-related violence, which has killed 23,000 Mexicans in the past three years, or the availability of drugs in the U.S. marketplace, the world’s biggest. Obama said Tuesday that he would send as many as 1,200 National Guard troops back to the US- Mexico boarder to help battle illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

Science Daily: Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have produced the first evidence that the opioid blocker extended-release injectable naltrexone (XR-NTX) is able to reduce the brain’s response to cues that may cause alcoholics to relapse.

Facebook, E-mail, Games, and Porn – A glimpse at Computer addiction

Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen

Computer addiction, including social networking and porn  addiction, can lead to serious dysfunction in some peopleThe idea of the internet being addictive may draw a chuckle until you realize that compulsive video gaming has been responsible for some horrifying deaths across the world, including examples from China and South Korea of addicts playing for 50+ straight hours before going into extreme cardiac arrest.

With 1.5 billion Internet users around the world today, the Internet has become an integral part of our society. With the huge success of the Internet, researchers have become interested in the possibility of a new disorder, Computer addiction (or internet addiction disorder).

What is internet addiction?

Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is a controversial term being used to describe problematic use of the Internet. IAD is not a recognized diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Many wonder if excessive Internet use really counts as an addiction. Excessive Internet use could just be a symptom of other underlying factors such as depression, anxiety, or occupational need. (1)

Those that believe excessive Internet use is a unique phenomenon have modified the criteria for diagnosing pathological gambling to diagnose IAD. For someone to have IAD, they must demonstrate five or more of the following:

1. Is preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session).
2. Needs to use the Internet with increased amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction.
3. Has made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use.
4. Is restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use.
5. Has stayed online longer than originally intended.
6. Has jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity
because of the Internet.
7. Has lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet.
8. Uses the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e. g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression). (1)

Who gets computer addiction and to what?

Despite early beliefs that Internet addiction was most prevalent among introverted young males, new studies have shown that Internet addiction can affect people of any gender, age, and socioeconomic status (1).

People are most likely to develop unhealthy Internet habits using online social applications such as e-mail, instant messaging, and networking sites (e.g. Facebook, Myspace). Chat rooms and MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) are especially addicting as they allow a user to instantly communicate with hundreds if not thousands of other users (2).

Online social interactions may help a person fulfill unmet real life social needs and thereby reinforce prolonged Internet use.

It should be noted that most studies of Internet use rely on self-report measures. This method undoubtedly leads to an underreporting of Internet pornography use. According to the AVN Media Network, people in the United States alone spend around three billion dollars on online porn. Aside from social applications, online porn certainly plays a significant role in Internet addiction.

So, does excessive Internet use truly characterize an addiction? That debate is not likely to end anytime soon. Either way, the Internet is here to stay and many individuals who have problems controlling their Internet use could benefit greatly from help, especially if their use involves a financial cost.

Citations:

1. Beard, K.W., Wolf, E.M. (2001) Modification in the proposed diagnostic criteria for internet addiction, Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 4(3)
2. Young, K.S., (1996) Internet addiction: Emergence of a new clinical disorder, Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 1(3)

What does it mean to be love addicted? Sex addiction explained.

What do you think of when you hear the words “sex addict“? Do you imagine someone who has sex dozens of times a day? Someone who owns a lot of sex toys? Someone who spends all their time immersed in pornography?

While all of these scenarios, and others, can identify someone with a sexual addiction, the crucial part of identifying an addict has to do with the consequences of the behavior and the person’s inability to control them. That being said, sex addiction is a relatively recent idea. In fact, it’s sometimes called love addiction instead.

So what is sex addiction?

A sexual addict experiences the same type of uncontrollable compulsions that others feel in different forms of addiction (like substance, alcohol, gambling, shopping, etc). In his book (Out of the Shadow: Understanding Sexual Addiction) Carnes talks about the compulsive sexual behavior as guiding a misperception of the self.

In simple words: Sex addicts’ view of themselves depends on their relationship with sexual behavior. Since they often find themselves unable to control the behavior, they often have trouble with their self-image.

What is sex addiction NOT?

Let us look at some of the NOTS of sexual addiction. Sex addicts are not people who are just hypersexual and get satisfied with their sexual behaviors; rather, they are often not satisfied with the sexual activities that they engage in. Sex addicts are not necessarily Casanovas, but are often normal functioning people who find themselves having to hide their compulsive sexual urges.

While some sex addicts do pay for sex, others are compulsive about watching porn and others simply struggle with monogamy. The point is, the stigma of sex addicts as predatory child molesters needs to be put to rest.

How common is sex addiction?

Sex addiction is a major problem in our society. Some estimate that as many as 15 million people in the U.S. are sexual addicts (roughly 8% of all men and 3% of women). Easy access to porn offered by the internet has most likely increased the prevalence of sexual addiction in the past decade. In fact, for most people getting porn addiction help specifically is the problem.

The costs for those suffering from sex addiction are also numerous: Relationships and families are disrupted and destroyed, the addict’s self-esteem diminishes as they are unable to be productive in other areas of their life; illegal activity (like prostitution) ends up causing arrests, and health is often affected through the contraction of diseases.

Am I a sex addict?

Now, don’t immediately assume that you are a sex addict because you fantasize about sex a lot. But how does one know if they are addicted to sex?

The simple rule is: no impairment, no addiction.Sex addiction

On the other hand, if day to day functioning is affected by the behavior (in this case, something sexual), this may be an indication of a problem. So, whether it be having sex often, thinking of sex, or even just being extremely horny, if it’s making a person’s daily activities or relationships dysfunctional and if they are unable to control their behavior they may be defined as a sex addict.

In future posts we will look more into the symptoms, forms, theories, and treatments related to sex addiction. In the mean-time, keep reading, and if you feel brave enough, share your story; who knows, you may be able to help someone else who is love addicted!!!

Sex addiction help from All About Addiction

If you need help finding treatment for your own, or a loved one’s sex addiction, make sure to give our Rehab-Finder a try: It’s the only evidence-based, scientifically created, tool for finding rehab anywhere in the United States!